Kingston, PA – A Pennsylvania public school solicitor behind a letter threatening parents with the possible loss of their children if they didn’t pay outstanding school lunch debts was forced to resign on July 25.
The Wyoming Valley West School District sent a letter to about 40 parents of school children in the district informing them that unless their outstanding lunch debts were settled, children could be "taken from your home and placed in foster care," according to ABC News.
The district was owed more than $22,476 in lunch money total, and the effort was being made to collect the debts ahead of the new school year.
The letter was signed and sent by Federal Programs Director Joseph Muth, but it was written by the district’s solicitor, Charles Coslett, The Times Leader reported.
“The letter was over the top and should not have been sent out,” Muth said afterward.
Muth accepted full responsibility for sending the collection letter out without first checking with the superintendent, and said in hindsight, he should not have used such strong language in the letter, The Times Leader reported.
Despite the criticism and controversy, Coslett defended the letter he’d written and said parents have ignored numerous attempts by the district to collect payment and failed to contact the school to work out an arrangement.
“It merely lays out the options available to the district if people continue to ignore their parental responsibility and the nutritional needs of their minor sons and daughters," he told ABC News. "These parents need to look in the mirror...This matter isn't going away merely because delinquent debtors make Valley West the bad guy.”
But instead of backing Coslett up, the school district decided to let their solicitor take the rap.
Wyoming Valley West School Board President Joe Mazur said he asked for Coslett’s resignation because he was responsible for the letter.
“He wrote the letter, and the fact is that none of us had seen it and that the superintendent didn’t see it,” Mazur told The Times Leader.
He said Coslett’s resignation would go into effect immediately.
“He was congenial, he said he understood and said he will settle up with whatever we owe him,” Mazur said. “I’ve already informed the district business manager and Superintendent Irv DeRemer.”
Coslett confirmed his resignation to The Times Leader and said that he stepped down because there had been enough controversy and his point had been lost.
“There’s been enough division surrounding this issue, where the focal point got skewed and the importance of parental responsibility got lost,” he said. “But enough is enough. I don’t want to be the cause of this division.”
Coslett has been solicitor for Wyoming Valley West since 2015, but prior to that he served in the same capacity for other districts for several decades, The Times Leader reported.
He has a reputation for not backing down when challenged, and famously told some school board members at a Northwest Area meeting in 1998 that if they wanted him to answer questions in public so that the audience could hear them, they would have to pay for his time.
After the story about Coslett’s threatening letter for lunch debts went viral and inspired outrage across the nation, several philanthropists stepped up to pay the offending parents’ tabs, The Times Leader reported.
Among them, La Colombe Coffee Founder and CEO Todd Carmichael offered to pick up the entire balance, no strings attached – but was initially turned down.
Later, the school district posted a letter of apology that acknowledged the generosity and said they would be accepting donations to pay off the school lunch debt.
“We would like to thank all who have offered to donate. Your generosity is overwhelming,” the school district wrote.
The letter made it clear that despite outstanding lunch debts, no student was ever denied a lunch due to lack of payment.